Gathering the ‘lost sheep’

| April 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

“I bet you can’t wait until the archdiocesan bankruptcy is behind us — it must be such a distraction from the important work of the Church.”

The Good Shepherd - Lost sheep

“The Good Shepherd” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Ca. 1660. Public domain

I would be a wealthy man if I had a dollar for each time I have heard these sentiments expressed since I arrived in the Twin Cities. I indeed pray for the day when the bankruptcy is settled and hope that you will do the same. I have come to recognize, however, that far from being a distraction from the “work of the Church,” our response to the more than 400 claimants in our bankruptcy, alleging abuse and betrayal stretching back more than 70 years, has to be at the very heart of who we are and what we do as we seek to be faithful to the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church. We can’t be a Church that preaches fairness and compassion if we are not willing to put those virtues into practice, especially in responding to the needs of those who were harmed by men and women representing our Church.

While the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy precisely to avoid being in an adversarial relationship with victims/survivors, the formalities of our legal system at times sadly impede the archdiocese’s abilities to reach out pastorally and directly to individuals who have been harmed. I have benefited from personal meetings with survivors and anticipate that such encounters will likely increase once the bankruptcy is resolved. Of course until then, even a pastoral encounter has to be run by legal counsel.

In these circumstances, I am particularly grateful that others in our Catholic community and in the broader community have stepped into the breach to carry on the work of dialogue and outreach that by God’s grace could lead to healing. I was delighted, for example, to read in The Catholic Spirit of both the monthly Twin Cities Peace Circle led by Dr. Jim Richter and the weekly support group led by counselor Deb Riba.

Moreover, I am particularly grateful that three of our parishes are independently exploring avenues for restorative justice and healing as part of a pilot project under the direction of Mark Umbreit, director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota. An internationally recognized expert in this field, Dr. Umbreit has been working locally with a number of survivors of sexual abuse, as well as with our pastors and lay leaders, to explore ways in which restorative justice efforts that have proven to be successful in other states could be tailored and adapted to our local experience.

I was happy to learn that, as part of that effort, Justice Janine Geske will be offering two informational presentations this weekend on “Restorative Justice and Healing Circles in the Wake of the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal.” A retired justice of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin now serving at the Marquette University Law School, Dr. Geske has effectively led conversations on this topic at the Vatican and around the globe. The first conversation will take place 1–3 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, and the second will take place on that same date from 4–6 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis. Both sessions are open to the public.

I hear anecdotally that many of those who have been harmed by individuals representing the Church have since found great support from our pastors and pastoral ministers, and have found hope and healing in the Church’s sacraments. For others, the relationship with the Church is much more difficult, and understandably so.

This past Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, we were reminded that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Rather than scattering them, he gathers them into one flock. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we learn that he is even willing to leave the 99 to seek out the one sheep who has wandered. While we most often think of the “lost sheep” as one who has chosen through sin to leave the fold, our current situation sadly reminds us that there are some sheep who find themselves separated from the fold through no fault of their own, but rather as a result of the sins of others.

As a faith community, we can never give up on our efforts to search for these sheep, to be present to those sheep and to invite them once again to an experience of the authentic love of Christ the Good Shepherd.

In his famous painting of Christ the Good Shepherd, the 17th-century Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo situates the Christ child and the recovered lamb in the midst of ancient ruins, perhaps reminding us that the search for the separated sheep requires a willingness to venture into the brokenness of the world. May our encounters with the Risen Christ this Easter season give us the conviction and courage that we need to be his instruments in bringing hope and healing into even the most challenging of circumstances.

Reuniendo a las ‘ovejas erdidas’

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Category: Only Jesus